Academic Freedom and Teaching

Pernell v. Lamb, No. 22-13992 (11th Cir. 2023)

On June 23, 2023, the AAUP filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit in support of Florida faculty who are challenging the state’s “Stop WOKE” Act. That law, passed in 2022 and formally known as the Individual Freedom Act, prohibits professors at Florida’s public universities from expressing certain disfavored viewpoints while teaching on topics including those involving racial and sexual discrimination and injustice. The AAUP’s brief argues that the law violates the First Amendment and threatens to destroy academic freedom, sabotage higher education, and undermine democracy.

Texas Attorney General, Opinion Request No. 0421-KP (Sept. 3, 2021)(amicus brief filed)

On September 3, 2021, the AAUP submitted a brief to the Texas attorney general arguing against a request from a state legislator for an opinion on whether teaching certain ideas about race, including critical race theory (CRT), would violate “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, [or] Article 1, Section 3 and Section 8 of the Texas Constitution.” This request is part of a broader attack on teaching and training on the issues of racism and racial justice, manifested in proposed state laws limiting teaching on “divisive subjects” and in requests for state attorney general opinions forbidding such teaching. In advocating against the attempt to circumscribe teaching about racism, the brief focuses on Supreme Court First Amendment decisions and AAUP policy concerning the societal role of education, academic freedom, and teachers’ expertise in developing curriculum. Thus, the brief addressed the broader political themes that are behind many of these attacks on teaching and the AAUP policies applicable to these attempted infringements of academic freedom.

Glass v. Paxton, 900 F. 3d 233 (5th Cir. 2018)

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upheld a Texas law permitting the concealed carry of handguns on campus (the “campus carry law”) and a corresponding University of Texas at Austin (UT) policy prohibiting professors from banning such weapons in their classrooms. Faculty from UT filed suit and argued that the law and policy violated the First Amendment, Second Amendment, and Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The lower court dismissed the faculty’s claims and the faculty appealed. In its amicus brief, the AAUP argued that the law and policy requiring that handguns be permitted in classrooms harms faculty as it deprives them of a core academic decision and chills their First Amendment right to academic freedom. The appeals court rejected the faculty’s claims finding that they lacked standing under the First Amendment as it deemed that the harm was not certainly impending. The court also affirmed the dismissal of the Second Amendment and Equal Protection claims.

Sussex Commons Associates, LLC v. Rutgers, 416 N.J. Super. 537 (App.Div. 2010)

Asking the Appellate Division of the Superior Court of New Jersey court to protect the records of the law clinic, the AAUP’s joint amicus brief argued that requiring the clinic’s records to be released publicly would impinge on the academic freedom rights of Rutgers faculty and students as well as the First Amendment rights of citizens to access and use law clinics.  

Burt v. Rumsfeld, 322 F. Supp. 2d 189 (D. Conn. 2004); Burt v. Gates, 502 F.3d 183 (2d Cir. 2007)

Professor Rubenfeld and members of Yale Law School faculty sued the Department of Defense on First Amendment and Fifth Amendment grounds; they argued that the Department was wrong in applying the Solomon Amendment against the university because of the law school's nondiscrimination policy. 

Rumsfeld v. Forum for Academic & Institutional Rights, Inc., 547 U.S. 47 (2006)

An association of law schools and law faculties alleged that the Solomon Amendment, which tied federal funding for institutions of higher education with giving military recruiters access equal to that provided to other recruiters, infringed its members' First Amendment freedoms of speech and association. The Solomon Amendment placed schools in the unwanted position of either violating their own policies regarding discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, or risking millions of dollars in federal funding. 

Axson-Flynn v. Johnson, 356 F.3d 1277 (10th Cir. 2004)

Christina Axson-Flynn, a former student  at the University of Utah, sued her university theater department professors for violating her First Amendment rights by requiring  students perform in-class plays that Axson-Flynn found religiously objectionable.

Burbank v. Rumsfeld, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 17509 (E.D. Pa. 2004)

 The University of Pennsylvania  Law School promulgated an anti-discrimination policy that limited its services to employers who did not discriminate based on sexual orientation. After the Air Force stated that the policy did not comply with the Solomon Amendment and threatened the school's federal funding, the school decided not to enforce the policy against military recruiters. The court held that the law school had standing to assert violations of the First Amendment rights.

Linnemeir v. Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne, 155 F. Supp. 2d 1044 (N.D. Ind. 2001); Linnemeir v. Board of Trustees of Purdue University, 260 F.3d 757 (7th Cir. 2001)

This case involved efforts by some taxpayers and Indiana state legislators to compel Indiana University-Purdue University to halt the campus production of a controversial play, which the plaintiffs alleged is an "undisguised attack on Christianity and the Founder of Christianity, Jesus Christ."

Southern Christian Leadership Conference v. Supreme Court of Louisiana, 61 F. Supp. 2d 499 (E.D. La. 1999); SCLC v. Supreme Court, 252 F.3d 781, 786 (5th Cir. 2001

The Louisiana Supreme Court amended a rule that imposed limits on the types of clients law school clinics may represent.  A number of plaintiffs, including professors and students, challenged this rule, alleging, in part, that it violated the academic freedom of professors to teach and students to learn.